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average rating is 3 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Feb 18, 2023

Film Reviews
Directed by:
D.J. Hale
Written by:
D. J. Hale
D.J. Hale, Jenna Ross, Eric Rosenberg

The personal touch of director, writer and star D.J. Hale is evident in Lionheart, a short sports drama that plays it safe with its presentation and plot, but is capable of inspiring viewers nonetheless.


Aspiring football star Zac (Hale) battles a devastating injury to his leg as he is put through punishing training camps to acquire his dream contract to play at the national level. He knows due to his size and health; his odds are long – but the support of his partner Dani (Jenna Ross) keeps him believing. When agent Doug (Eric Rosenberg) brings news that no teams are interested in him, Zac faces a decision on his future.


As a former athlete turned director, it’s not hard to imagine that Lionheart is personal to D.J. Hale. Whilst the story doesn’t perfectly parallel the director’s own life, the challenges, decisions and pressures Zac faces throughout the film will clearly be familiar – and the complex, at times imperfect manner in which the protagonist responds to the obstacles in his way is testament to true life experience. Hale is not afraid to show Zac’s frustration and anger at his body’s inability to perform to the levels he needs, and the system’s brutal rejection of his abilities. Lions can get pretty aggressive and irrational at times after all…


Development of the protagonist is the film’s strongest element - with the actual plot itself a paint-by-numbers sports drama affair. All the old hits are played – the supportive wife, the thumping training montage, the phone call on the bed at the athlete’s lowest point… you get the gist. Nothing wrong with the tried and tested, but it’s unlikely the film will stand out in the minds of viewers who have taken to these particular fields before.


Hale demonstrates that his talents are not restricted to behind the camera with his performance as Zac. The character’s depth comes through as Hale portrays a driven and desperate man pursuing what appears to be a disappearing dream. A little more time could have been spent establishing Zac’s background and motivations, but all in all audience’s hearts will be captured by his journey. Jenna Ross gives a largely passable performance as Dani – but nails a crucial motivational scene at the crossroads of Zac’s story.


The film looks slick and crisp, but much like with the plot - production plays things largely safe and sound with little in the way of creative filming or daring storytelling choices. Set largely on the training pitch or the couple’s home, there’s little opportunity for dynamic design choices either. The director does an admirable job of staging the film, and things never descend into boredom, but beyond looking like a Nike commercial at times, the film again fails to really stand out.


Lionheart is an entertaining watch and with the knowledge of the director’s personal investment in the story – an inspiring one too. It’s hardly original, but for fans of sports dramas this short will find a place in the team.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Digital / DVD Release, Short Film
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